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Tories call for review of mainstreaming in schools

The Scottish Conservatives want a rethink to the presumption of mainstreaming in education Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

A policy presumption to place pupils with additional support needs in mainstream schools should be reformed, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

Since 2002, it has been a legal requirement in Scotland for pupils to be taught in a mainstream setting unless certain exemptions apply.

These are – it would not be suited to the ability or aptitude of the child, it would prevent “efficient education” for their classmates or it would require “unreasonable public expenditure”.

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In a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday, the Tories will argue for their motion, stating a “growing number of young people with special educational needs are not being well served by being placed in inclusive mainstream education”.

The party wants the Scottish Government to review the presumption to mainstream policy to ensure there is “more effective uptake of places in special schools and special units”.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Let’s be very clear, inclusive education is seen as one of the great strengths of Scottish education, part of which is the presumption to mainstream all young people unless very special circumstances arise.

“However, while the policy continues to bring rich reward for the vast majority of young people, both in terms of their educational experience and their social development, there is a growing minority for whom mainstream education is not appropriate.”

Liz Smith will speak in a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday Credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA

The latest Scottish Government statistics from December showed more than a quarter (28.7%) of pupils – 199,065 – had a recorded additional support need in 2018, up 2.1 percentage points on the previous year.

Ms Smith added: “Most of them cope very well in mainstream classes but many do not and shouldn’t be there.

“We know too that 60% of teachers are telling us that they do not feel the presumption to mainstream is delivering the best results for all pupils and that is why we want to see reform.

“The Scottish Government needs to rethink how it can deliver a better educational experience for young people who are not suited to the mainstream classroom.

“That includes re-assessing the effective uptake of places in special schools and special units, and making the best use of specialist staff.”

A survey by learning disability organisation Enable Scotland in 2016 found of the 204 responses from the educational workforce most (60%) believed the mainstream presumption sometimes got it right but not for every child.

More than one in five (22%) said the policy is not right, 3% believed it is and 13% responded it is correct but more work is needed.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “All children and young people should get the support that they need to reach their full learning potential.

“We have listened to the experiences of children and families about getting the support that they need and our new guidance on mainstreaming, based on research and consultation, will be published shortly.”